The Ottumwa Courier

August 17, 2012

Officials tout $345 million system at Ottumwa Generating Station

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The governor, the CEO of Alliant Energy and the state director of economic development were at the Ottumwa Generating Station Thursday talking about more local jobs, a cleaner environment and bringing new business to the state.

The excitement is over the construction of a $345 million emissions-reduction system, a series of high-tech filters that cut pollution.  

“The OGS project is a win-win for Iowa’s economy and environment,” said Pat Kampling, president and CEO of Alliant Energy. “The project at OGS will create approximately 400 good-paying construction jobs for Iowa’s working families and foster future economic growth while making Iowa’s air cleaner.”

Gov. Terry Branstad called the project “a long-term investment in Iowa’s economy and environment.”

As for what it means locally, Alliant officials said over the next two to three years, those 400 direct jobs will support at least as many indirect jobs.

Dave Shafer, the city of Ottumwa’s planning and development director, explained the direct jobs are the crews needed to build the addition, while the “indirect” are people in the local community who will find work that supports an influx of hundreds of temporary residents.  

Well-paid temporary residents, an Alliant official pointed out after the meeting.

“They are experts at their craft,” said John Larsen, senior vice president of generation for Alliant. “The best and brightest. And we’re proud to pay them [well] for the work they do.”

He said in these kinds of projects, hundreds of workers can be expected to spend money in the community.

“If we’ve got 400 people, they need a place to sleep, a place to eat and hopefully some recreation as well for two years,” Larsen said.

But when those workers have moved to their next project, will there be more employees needed in the area?

Maybe just a few.

There’s no exact figure yet, said Larsen. However, he said, the company tries to be as efficient as possible using the permanent employees it already has on site. Hiring an unnecessary number of employees means Alliant is not keeping customer costs down.

But Ryan Stensland, an Alliant spokesman, said the current jobs at the plant appear to be safe. Two companies don’t pour more than a quarter billion dollars into a facility they want to close in a few years.

Stensland said “Tier One” projects designate the facilities Alliant has determined  are their long-term facilities, like the one in Ottumwa. Those are the places being updated at this time.

Besides the local jobs, there is another employment consideration influenced by the project, said Branstad.

“Our top priority is to bring good-paying jobs to Iowa,” he said.

Companies considering expanding or building in Iowa want to know there’s enough low-cost, reliable energy available to meet their production needs.

And while Iowa is now generating 20 percent of its power requirements using wind, he said, there needs to be a diverse “portfolio of energy” available within the state.

“Wind’s not going to handle all our needs,” Branstad said. “There’s still a need for coal.”

But by law, it’ll have to be clean-burning coal like Ottumwa will be using, he said. The addition of the OGS scrubber and other filter technology by Alliant and the co-owners, MidAmerican Energy, is supposed to reduce sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 90 percent.

That means of the roughly 150 pounds of mercury currently pumped into the  local air every year, they can cut out 135 pounds. Results are more obvious when it comes to sulfur emissions, which will be reduced by 4,900 tons every year, they said. That means less sulfuric acid mist.

Stensland said the project will meet current state and federal laws but will also meet regulations that have yet to be required to be enforced.